Lil Wayne/Nicki Minaj/Rick Ross/Travis Barker/Mix Master Mike The Pageant April 10, 2011
Better Than: Whatever the hell else went on last night.
They came in jacked-up ghetto cruisers and sensible Hondas; they came in glute-hugging tube dresses, crisp white T's and homemade shirts. They came from Illinois, South Dakota, the county and the northside, and last night, they partied like it was November 4th.
It was Wayne's night through and through. It's easy to imagine that being part of the Young Money/Cash Money Billionaires empire comes with a few requirements--mention your latest project no fewer than three times, bring some famous and not so famous friends and for god's sake show some respect to the man who brought you here--Dwayne Michael Carter Jr.
Wayne proved himself worthy of his own lip service--he was sober and therefore clear-throated, and he performed for two solid hours without AutoTune; his rhymes were raw, which made his flawless execution all the more impressive. The night was not perfect, but Lil Wayne was. "You think it'd be cool if we take the ceilings off this bitch?" he asked, knowing full well there would be a riot if he didn't.
Mix Master Mike of the Beastie Boys dueled on the ones and twos while Blink 182 drummer Travis Barker flayed his drum kit. It was a shame that half the crowd was still milling around outside during the pair's frenetic old school hip-hop and rock set, which put Girl Talk's sample gluttony to shame. The early slot seemed like a waste of their time and talent. Their performance would have been better suited to keeping the energy up during between-set transitions.
Gravel-voiced Rick Ross took the stage next, playing a consistent set of his radio friendly jams, "Aston Martin Music," "Hustlin'" and his best earworm, "Blowin' Money Fast." DJ Khaled joined him for the aural crack that is "All I Do Is Win," and crowd favorite "Welcome To My Hood." All respect to Ricky Rozay, but somewhere between the 50-foot-tall promotional poster of himself, the "Maybach Music" sound bite after every song, and the number of times he proclaimed himself to be "self-made" (the name of his new album, obviously), it got to be overkill.
After Rick Ross finished
promoting performing, all eyes went to the silhouette at the top of the lit-up Hollywood Squares-on-ecstasy stage set, and the crowd went berserk as a disembodied female voice read Wayne's prisoner number. His fantastic band revved up, and after a few jarring pyrotechnic salvos, Weezy came out of the floor, wearing a Cardinals hat (!) and crouching coolly with mike in hand. The reaction was deafening even before he dropped his first beat, "I'm Goin' In."
There were varying volumes of crowd response last night, but if Wayne was visible, the noise level from the seats was ear-splitting. Ever the showman, Wayne curried favor by imparting "three important things."
"Number one: I believe in God, do you? Number two: I ain't shit without you. Number three: I. Ain't. Shit. Without. You."
Throughout the night, Weezy alternated between giving props to his crew (DJ Four Five, Birdman, his badass band, Mack Maine), egging on his protégés Shanell and Lil Twist, and hyping the room with umpteen call and responses. The calls were always different, but the response was generally same: "Hell yeah, nigga!"
His first set was stacked with enough hits that we nearly forgot dear old Minaj, at least until Wayne announced "I'll be right back, I'mma take these fucking clothes off."
The room went dark until scenes from Gladiator started up, soundtracked by a particularly grandiose Enya song. Necks craned as the song hit it's emotional apex, and a druid straight out of Monty Blackthon and the Holy Grail shuffled down the catwalk at about the same time people realized that dancers in conspicuous pink wigs had also hit the stage. The druid tossed a few handfuls of purple glitter and before we knew it, a cotton candy wig attached to the woman of the hour was rising out of the floor.
Wearing a white bejeweled corset and a catsuit that looked like it was used to clean up Rainbow Brite's vomit, Nicki Minaj launched into "Roman's Revenge" looking every bit the cartoon character, from her abbreviated Marge Simpson bouffant to her comical booty.* Her live voice is sweeter than expected, though at this point so much of her is schtick it's impossible to delineate where the gaudery ends. While her delivery lacked a bit of the pungency we're used to from her records, her presence was electrifying.
The thundering "Did It On 'Em" got number twos in the air, and the crowd lost it when she pulled out a dildo and pretended to whizz on her dancers for the line, "If I had a dick I would pull it out and piss on 'em."
She tore through three of her best verses from other people's songs next; Drake's "Up All Night," Ludacris' "My Chick Bad," and Trey Songz "Bottoms Up." As is her custom, she invited a girl on stage for a "treat," but decided that she needed to mix it up so she picked one girl from each side of the stage and had the crowd decide. "I've found the girls are more into it than the boys," she said, to uproarious applause from Tampax Nation and aggrieved groans from the dudes in attendance. She instructed the winner to cross her legs, saying "Your skirt is too short," before straddling her and copping a feel.
Minaj donned a massive tulle skirt and became Bridal Barbie for a goosebump-inducing "Right Thru Me" and surprisingly tender "Save Me," although her backup singers did the majority of the vocal work on the latter. No one missed Kanye when she started spitting her "Monster" verse, cementing Nicki's rise from hip hops' clutch accessory to real femcee.
"I love you too, you're so cute and so cuddly, I just wish you had your boobs out...That always makes me feel better," she said after telling the crowd there were two more songs before she was, "out of your lives forever." She sang off-key during her final song "Moment 4 Life," but all was forgiven when she thanked the crowd with a genuine "That's some real shit. You guys were fucking amazing tonight."
Lil Wayne came back onstage and blasted through his second set, joined by Mack Maine, Lil Twist and Miss Nicki on "BedRock," Cory Gunz for set closer "6'7" and Birdman on "Money to Blow." He let a new verse fly, played the fucking guitar, pimped his forthcoming album ("Tha Carter IV drops on May 16. When does Tha Carter IV drop?" "May 16!" [laughs] "Buncha smart motherfuckers in St. Louis!") and made a solemn pronouncement: "You are no longer being entertained by just a rapper. You're being entertained by one of the best fucking things to ever happen to music." Judging by the spent but exhilarated expressions after the show, he might just be right.
Critic's Notebook: It's fake. A real ass of that magnitude would have quivered like a Jell-O mold in an earthquake (yep, too soon), but even mid-lap dance Minaj's posterior barely jiggled.
Personal Bias: I went into last night thinking that Lil Wayne was at the point in his career where he'd grace the stage for 35 minutes and leave the other three and a half hours to his YMCMB cats. I also went in thinking that Nicki would steal the show. Wrong and (mostly) wrong. Lil Wayne defied expectations, but seeing Nicki live killed a tiny part of the fangirl in me. Some of her sickest rhymes appeared lip synced, which I found unforgivable since her album is barely six months old. I'll still defend her to the death, but I'm starting to think Lil Kim might have been on to something.
Lil Wayne Part I I'm Goin' In Bill Gates Look At Me Now A Milli Right Above It Got Money Go DJ Swag Surfin' Ice Cream Green and Yellow Popular I'm Single
Nicki Minaj Roman's Revenge Did It On 'Em Up All Night My Chick Bad Bottoms Up Letting Go Right Thru Me Save Me Monster SuperBass Moment for Life
Lil Wayne Part II We Be Steady Mobbin I'm Me Phone Home Hustle Hard Welcome to My Hood BedRock Every Girl Fire Flame Money to Blow Miss Me Forever Mrs. Officer Lollipop Prom Queen Drop the World Da Da Da 6'7
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